There are few instances that upset the public more than being lied to, particularly about what they’re eating.
In the last month, there have been several huge misrepresentations about food products, starting with the ongoing horsemeat scandal in Europe, and continuing with the less egregious, but still concerning, fish mislabeling issue in the U.S. that hit the media this week.
To offer some context, it has been just over a year since the American public was roiled by the “pink slime” beef additive revelations, prompting all kinds of traditional and social media outcry, and resulting legislation.
But as loud as the criticism was for that issue, it pales in comparison to the horsemeat scandal sweeping Europe. In the last month, it’s spread from the discovery that 30 to 40 percent of meat content of hamburgers in Ireland was, in fact, horsemeat to horsemeat being found in beef products in Britain, Spain, Italy, and Germany.
Food processor giants are scrambling to explain the shocking news, weakly trying to pin the blame on far-flung suppliers. Even food conglomerate Nestlé said it had increased product testing after the horsemeat scandal, and admitted to finding traces of horse DNA in two beef products supplied by a German company. On Monday, news
broke that horsemeat was discovered in meatballs sold at the furniture store IKEA in Europe.
After weeks of outcry, it’s still not clear how to unravel the complex system of the food supply chains to find out who’s at fault. To try to manage the crisis, the lumbering European ministries are stepping in with promises to bump up regulation.
“The question is who did what, where and when?” Tonio Borg, the European health commissioner, told the Financial Times
. “And I am confident we will get to the bottom of this.”
While less discouraging and disgusting, but still an issue, a report
released this week from an ocean conservation group uncovered a major fraud in seafood labeling in the U.S. The report found that one-third (33 percent) of the 1,215 samples analyzed nationwide were mislabeled, according to U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidelines.
“Our government has a responsibility to provide more information about the fish sold in the U.S., as seafood fraud harms not only consumers’ wallets, but also every honest vendor and fisherman cheated in the process--to say nothing of the health of our oceans,” the report’s authors say.
The government’s response? As with the horsemeat issue, it’s not that easy since most of the seafood we eat is imported. Maybe they can get the European regulators to help?
Gil Rudawsky heads the crisis communication and issues management practice at GroundFloor Media in Denver. He is a former reporter and editor. Read his blog or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.